October 31st, 2014

Alastair Attentive

Commencing Halloween

Happy Halloween, everyone. This is only the prelude to multiple posts I intend to make throughout the day covering horror films. For now, a warning:

Twitter Sonnet #681

Clocks afoul of bookless classrooms collapse.
Slip'ry relics repaint the halls at dawn.
A curling parchment proclaimed a relapse.
Fire attacks the too long dead and gone.
Dry hooves cut withered leaves of dusk clapped eyes.
A rotten grip rendered the brain sugar.
Untimely skeletons strangle the flies.
The jelly dark is eating with rigour.
Black clutching edges burnt the eye sockets.
Exiled femurs clot the bony pit.
Old marshmallow fingers stay in pockets.
The candy corn teeth crumble on the bit.
The zombie cage inverts on immortals.
White plastic wheels carry the dead portals.
Looking Glass Clock

A Deceptive Flavour

A young woman, the only child of an immensely wealthy man, returns home after ten years to find her father mysteriously absent and the house occupied by her unpleasant stepmother and frequented by a sinister doctor played by Christopher Lee. If you think the real story behind this veneer is too easy to guess, you're wrong. 1961's Taste of Fear is labyrinth of greed and murder that fits together tight as a drum. Shot in gorgeous black and white by Douglas Slocombe, it's one of the best Hammer movies I've seen.

Susan Strasberg plays the young woman, very small and pretty, confined to a wheelchair and often wearing enormous, dark sunglasses. Her father's chauffeur, Bob (Ronald Lewis), the only seemingly friendly occupant of the house, observes it's as though she's trying to protect herself with the glasses, to put a wall between herself and others.

Almost the entire movie is from her point of view and we follow her as she explores the large, lonely house filled with brilliant shadows by Slocombe. And as she seems to encounter the corpse of her father in various locations, propped up in chairs, only to find him gone when she brings anyone else into the room to see.

Her small size and her paralysed legs make the atmosphere around her all the more threatening, like Audrey Hepburn's blindness in Wait Until Dark.

It wouldn't be nice of me to say much about the plot beyond that but I think this is definitely a film that would reward at least a second viewing.

The Zombies Between Us

As one generation finally concedes defeat in achieving a loving, normal family, a younger generation finds itself embarking on the same endeavour with only the failure as an example to follow and surrounded by zombies. Michael (Michael Fuith) finds himself caught in his ex-girlfriend's apartment with a young plumber's assistant when the zombie apocalypse hits Berlin in 2010's Rammbock. An effective enough zombie film but the subtext on dysfunctional relationships is more interesting, the gloomy film being more about resignation to doom than a fight for survival.

The zombies in this film are closer to the fast moving, 28 Days Later variety, people apparently infected by a disease rather than actually undead. It's slightly less severe than the 28 Days Later variety, allowing those bitten to remain normal so long as their adrenaline levels don't rise, leading to tragic scenes like a man caring for and speaking soothing lies to a bitten wife bedridden by sedatives.

Almost the entire movie takes place within a single apartment complex with a courtyard in the middle across which people barricaded in their apartments can talk to each other while the infected rampage below.

But there are zombies within the building, too, and Michael finds himself trapped with the personal effects of the woman with whom he had a failed relationship, whom he still loves. With him is Harper (Theo Trebs), who doesn't quite comprehend Michael's need to rescue his cell phone from the room where they've locked a zombie in just for the dim hope that Gabi (Anka Graczyk) may have called.

One of the people across the courtyard is a young woman Harper's age, Anita (Emily Cox), who immediately takes a liking to him when they meet after she sees Harper's figured out that the zombies are repelled by camera flashes.

Before this, Michael and Harper break out of Gabi's apartment by bashing through a wall into the next apartment. Michael discovers that Gabi isn't much better off than him and the ending of the film nicely ties the widespread nature of relationship dysfunction with the spread of the zombie disease.

Oh Christ

Know Your Vampire

Two American college students visit their Romanian friend in her home country to study history and somehow they don't anticipate meeting vampires. It turns out, there's a long history of humans and vampires existing together in 1991's Subspecies, the fun first film in a direct to video fantasy series.

This pale guy with the big hair (Angus Scrimm) is king of the vampires in Romania where centuries ago vampires bit the necks off a whole army of Turks threatening the people. Now, whatever the three young women might believe of what the old gypsy woman tells them, the vampires are allowed to live in the ruins of a nearby castle. They haven't attacked a human in centuries because of a stone they stole from the Vatican that continually produces blood.

At least, I think that's what the stone does. Maybe it grants extra strength, I'm not sure. Anyway, the king's killed in the first scene by his son, Radu (Anders Hove), whose makeup and costume make him look almost identical to Klaus Kinski in Herzog's remake of Nosferatu from twelve years earlier.

Except for the rock star hair. The film was shot in Romania using several actual ruins which gives the film a nice look. It clashes somewhat with the distinctly early 90s/late 80s synthesiser soundtrack but on the other hand, that's part of its charm, too. Radu's brother, Stefan (Michael Watson), is a good guy with a fuzzy black pompadour and he falls for Michele (Laura Tate), who, with the shortest, darkest, and most utilitarian hair is implicitly the most virtuous of the three women.

Though they all have the same taste in sweaters.

The two blondes are much more susceptible to Radu's charms. The Romanian woman, Mara (Irina Movila), has her clothes shredded to ribbons when she's captured while Michele is merely chained up. Mara is terrorised by the little demon creatures that Radu creates by cutting off his fingers.

They're the only genuinely weird part of the movie and I think they're kind of cool. They're created by stop motion is some shots and puppetry in others. They kind of remind me of the Master's creepy Auton doll from the Doctor Who story Terror of the Autons.

There are a few plot points that don't make sense--like why one character is buried among the ruins where Radu lives or why no-one killed Radu sooner when they knew where he slept--but mostly it's a nice fantasy adventure film.
Oh Christ

Hail, Mahakala--Especially In the Form of a Bombshell Witch

Before discussing 1988's Veerana, my final horror film of Halloween, I want to take a cue from the opening title cards and caution everyone reading that I will be discussing a work of fiction. The film deals with "evil powers, spirits, and witches . . . none of which have any place in our modern world." We are advised to "watch this film as entertainment only."

And it is entertaining, a rather schlocky but captivating string of songs, overdramatic lighting and music, cheesy action sequences, and very beautiful women.

When it's brought to the attention of the men of the Pratap family that a witch, Nakita (Kamal Roy), has been seducing and killing men in the woods, Sameer Pratap (Vijayendra Ghatge) decides to confront the sorceress. He tracks her down to her enormous haunted manor and when she offers him alcohol he asks for a bath instead. It is of course in the bath where the tables will be turned and he will be seducing her.

What can she do when she sees this but take off all her clothes and get in with him? Allowing him to take her bat medallion, the source of all her powers, killing her. But she has a powerful cult behind her that worships Mahakala and they plot a revenge. The leader, Baba (Rajesh Vivek), organises his group of weird stone headed guys and concocts a plan to kidnap Sameer's daughter and use her body as a vessel for Nakita's resurrection.

The girl grows up to be the beautiful Jasmin Pratap (Jasmin). The Mahakala cultists have cut a piece of her hair and keep it in a doll buried with Nakita in what turns out to be part of a series of oddly oblique references to the story of Samson and Delilah that really don't become clear until the hero, Hemant (Hemant), actually beats up a bunch of guys in the climax with the skull of an ass (minus the jaw).

But don't worry, this film isn't Christian, it's Hindu and it's the Om, not the cross, that drives back the evil.

Like most Bollywood movies, Veerana varies wildly in tone, including bits with a comic relief character named Hitchcock (Satish Shah) who styles himself after Alfred Hitchcock and wishes to be a horror film director. In one scene, he splits his pants while attempting to remove boulders from the road for the film's other beautiful female lead, Sahila Chadha as Sahila Pratap.

We also get to see Hitchcock in the bath in one scene and the hero, Hemant, takes a shower and is walked in on by Sahila. There's an inordinate amount of bathing in this movie. The best is the first of Jasmin's musical numbers which are all the best parts of the film, in my opinion.